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Blatter urges Asia to seek more World Cup places

Photo: Franklin Reyes/AP

Sepp Blatter encouraged the AFC to push for more than their allotted five World Cup places.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- FIFA President Sepp Blatter has urged Asian football to push for more World Cup entries at the expense of Europe and South America, promoting an issue which could help his own re-election prospects.

Blatter said Friday that "we have to have a better balance'' because the two most powerful continents could have 19 of the 32 teams in Brazil next year.

"You are a powerhouse, you must be aware of your powerhouse,'' the FIFA boss told the 46 Asian Football Confederation member federations at their annual meeting.

Asian teams fight over just four guaranteed World Cup berths, with a fifth available in an intercontinental playoff. For 2014, the playoff will be against a South American team.

Blatter says reorganizing the "geopolitical and democratic side'' of FIFA - likely increasing the share for developing regions - should be the final phase of his reform program until 2015, when the next FIFA election is scheduled. He has recently backed away from a 2011 promise that his current four-year mandate is his last.

"This will be the last term, not of office, but the last term of reform, therefore in 2015 we shall have finished our reform,'' he said of a program launched after a series of scandals implicated members of his ruling board.

Blatter's proposal to increase Asia's World Cup representation at the expense of Europe should broaden his voting bloc against UEFA president Michel Platini, who is expected to run for the FIFA presidency in 2015

"Perhaps we should not change a lot but we have the right, and you have the right, and I have the obligation and the responsibility to bring this matter to discussion,'' Blatter said.

Since the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams at the 1998 tournament in France, the knockout stages have been dominated by European and South American teams. They represent 63 countries, less than one-third of FIFA's current 209 members.

"There is no chance to kick them out before one of them is in the semifinals,'' Blatter lamented to his Asian voters.

In the 32-team era, South Korea is the only team outside Europe and South America to reach the semifinals - and the 2002 co-host's run to the last four famously benefited from favorable refereeing decisions against European opponents.

No team from Asia or the 35-nation CONCACAF region, which includes Mexico and the United States, has reached the quarterfinals at the past two World Cups.

Still, those confederations have succeeded at the 2012 London Olympics and FIFA youth tournaments, Blatter noted.

The Olympic gold medals were won by Mexico's men and the United States women. South Korea won men's bronze and Japan's women got silver.

"That means if you have same number of participants from all continents that there is a balance of strength and a balance of forces,'' Blatter said, drawing applause from delegates.

Blatter also noted that half of FIFA's revenue - which totals more than $1 billion each year - comes from Asian broadcasters and sponsors. World Cup backers include Sony and Hyundai.

The Americas provides 30 percent and "Europe is left with less than 20 percent,'' Blatter said.

Platini was not present to hear Blatter's speech, having left Kuala Lumpur late Thursday following a gala dinner hosted by the AFC.

Blatter concluded by asking Asian delegates to bring suggestions to the FIFA agenda.

"Play your power but play it well in solidarity with the others,'' he said.

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